by Nikolay Rimsky-Korsakov

Chapter III

Part 5 - Harmony in Combined Groups

Lesson Notes: This brief lesson concludes our lessons on harmony. Here we will focus on combinations of the various groups of instruments.

Harmony in the strings and winds.

B. Combination of strings and wind.

1. We frequently meet with the combination of strings and wood-wind in the light of comparison of one timbre with another, either in long sustained notes, or tremolando in the strings. Apart from the complete or partial doubling of the string quartet (two methods frequently used), the general and most natural arrangement is:

Professor Belkin Comments: Actually, full and literal doubling should NOT be used for very long, as it produces a rather grey tone. The best method is to give each choir full harmony in itself, but with DIFFERENT VOICE LEADING. Momentary parallel octaves and fifths in the inner parts between groups are insignificant.

No. 171. Antar, Section 57 - String quartet divisi + wood-wind (cf. Ex. 151).

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Other References:
• Sadko, Symphonic Tableau, before and at Section 4, 9th bar.
• Sheheraxade, 1st' movement, Section M - 6 Vns soli ± 2 Ob. (2 Fl.), CI.
• Legend of Kitesh, Section 295 — the same; rhythmic motion in the wind, sustained harmony in the strings (cf. Ex. 213)

2. Owing to the complete absence of any affinity in tone quality, the combination of strings with brass is seldom employed in juxtaposition, crossing, or enclosure of parts.

Professor Belkin Comments: Again, since these sounds do not blend, it is best to make each choir complete in itself, but with independent voice leading. It should be mentioned here that when a particularly transparent effect is desired, the brass can be reduced in number (e.g. only horns, or trumpets), and written in mainly open intervals (octaves, fifths).

The first method may be used however when the harmony is formed by the strings tremolando, and the brass is employed in sustaining chords, also when the strings play short disconnected chords, sforzando. Another possible exception may be mentioned; the splendid effect of horns doubled by divided violas or 'cellos.

Other References:
• Snegourotchka, Section 242—Full brass +strings tremotando(cf.D Table of chords, Ex. 6)
• Legend of Kitesh, before Section 240 — the same (Horn, Trumpet +).
• Sadko, Opera, before Section 34 — Horn + Violas div., Trombones + 'Cellos div.
(A splendid example of the combination of strings and brass may be found in the introduction to the 2nd scene of the 4th act of."Khovanstchina" by Moussorgsky, orchestrated by Rimsky-Korsakov. (Editor's note.)

C. Combination of the three groups.

The combination of strings, wood-wind and brass instruments, set side by side, produces a full, round and firm tone.

Professor Belkin Comments: But see above re overuse of literal doubling.

No. 172. The Tsar's Bride, before Section 145 — Ob., Fag. + Horns + Strings.

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Other References:
• The Tsar's Bride, - final chord (cf. Table I of chords, Ex. 5).

No. 173. Sadko, end of 15st tableau — short chords. Last chords of the 1st, 3rd and 7th tableaux (cf. Table I and III, Vol. II, Ex. 9, 10, 18).

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No. 174. The Christmas Night, Section 22
— Wind + Brass c. sord. + tremolo strings.

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Other References:
• Legend of Kitesh, Section 162 (cf. Ex. 250).
• Snegourotchka — end of opera, (cf. Table III in Vol. it, Ex. 17) and a host of other examples.

General Observations. Balance and correct distribution of tone is much more important in dealing with long sustained chords or those of rhythmic design; in the case of short, disconnected chords resonance is a minor consideration, but one which should not be entirely neglected.

I have endeavoured to outline the general principles to be followed, but I do not profess to deal with all the countless cases which may arise in the course of orchestration. I have given a few examples of well-sounding chords; for further information I advise the reader to study full scores with care, as this is the only method to acquire perfect knowledge of the distribution and doubling of various instruments.

Professor Belkin Comments: Note to beginners: By FAR the most common beginner’s mistake is to overuse doubling. The best orchestration avoids doubling as a norm; it is better to learn various ways to differentiate the families in a tutti, even though this is more work!

Next Lesson:

Lessson 19 -
COMPOSITION - Orchestrating the Same Music